The Future of Product Management
Over the last couple of years, Product Management (PM) has emerged as one of the most vital roles within an organization. 2020 solidified Product Managers in the driver’s seat of digital transformation. Even in a stalled year, PMs played a pivotal role in moving the needle not just on products, but the essential growth to get their companies through unprecedented times. 2020 definitely put a spotlight on the role as a strategic, growth-driven function that paved the way forward for Product Management. But, where’s it heading next?
Here’s a TL;DR,
Table of Contents
What is Product Management?
Before we dive into the future, let’s get our basics sorted. In essence, Product Management is an organizational function that involves the supervision of the entire lifecycle of a product – from ideation to GTM strategy to product delivery. Product managers are like advocates for the customers and are responsible to get their voices heard within the organization. These dynamic duties make the role of product management both challenging and highly coveted.
What does a product manager do?
The day-to-day responsibilities of a product manager include a variety of strategic and tactical tasks. They spend most of their time focused on the following:
- Conduct research: While ideating for a product, PMs spend significant time researching to gain intel about the organization’s market, user personas and competitors.
- Develop a strategy: Once they collect ample insight, they structure the knowledge into a high-level strategic plan for the product – goals, objectives, broad-stroke overview of the product, and a rough timeline for the product delivery.
- Communicate plans: They then develop a working strategic plan using a product roadmap and present it to key stakeholders across the organization. They also have to maintain ongoing communication across their cross-functional teams throughout the development process.
- Work on feedback and data analysis: Finally, after building, testing, and introducing the product to the market, they gather feedback from users, and analyse data for what works, what doesn’t and what needs to be improved. Then, they coordinate with relevant teams to incorporate the feedback into future iterations of the product.
Product managers are NOT Project Managers
Product managers steer the development of products. They make strategic decisions about what to design and how to build the final product. They are the drivers of the product line with a focus on business objectives, measurable goals, and positive outcomes. On the other hand, project managers oversee previously developed plans. They manage schedules and resources to get things done – but have no stake in defining and prioritizing those goals and projects.
Research about the product
Break down KPIs into smaller tasks
Design product vision
Plan project timelines
Communicate vision of the product to stakeholders
Communicate progress of the project to stakeholders
Develop strategic plan
Monitor task completion
Create and maintain product roadmap
Allocate project resources
The Product Manager Career Path
The good news is that it’s no longer a one-size-fits-all blueprint of engineers and MBAs that enter the field. Breaking into a product-led role is now possible for various backgrounds than ever before. Today’s PMs come from different backgrounds – engineering, computer science, business, design, and even psychology. Perceptions are also changing in terms of what qualifies someone to enter the field. As work relies more on accessible tools and platforms without the need to code, future PMs will break the traditional mould and enter the field from all shapes and sizes – and styles.
Take a look at the PM role trajectory across organizations –
Core competencies of a PM
If you are planning to break into product management from another functional role, an important first step is to assess your transferable skills that you’ll need in the role. Use the following list to assess which skills you have and which ones you need to develop. Rate yourself 1 to 5, then focus on improving the lower scores.
- Data-driven skills: Knowledge of Statistics and the ability to think analytically are imperative for this role. Along with an experience in using tools to leverage data, such as, Google Analytics, Tableau, Data Studio, and MySQL.
- Communication skills: PMs have to communicate with stakeholders across teams and the wider organization. So, excellent verbal and written communication skills are key.
- User-centric approach: Truly understanding the target audience and what motivates them is the driving force of any product. Successful PMs use both quantitative and qualitative methods to research and understand the basics of usability testing.
- Technical abilities: As a PM, you’ll have to run discovery, write user stories and build product roadmaps. For this, you’ll need product design knowledge, software development framework knowledge and correct use of technical terminologies.
- Leadership: Any PM needs to be able to lead a discussion with important stakeholders. So, you need to have an experience of leading cross-functional teams or at least, a leadership training of some sort.
- Strategic mindset: To be a successful PM, you’ll need high-level understanding of the industry, business analysis experience and strong problem solving abilities.
How to jumpstart a career in Product Management?
Path #1: MBA program
- Accrue 3-5 years of experience in a related field, such as engineering.
- Complete an MBA program
- Land a junior/assistant product manager role
An MBA degree can be very valuable for those looking to land a PM role in a well-known tech firm, particularly those with rigid hierarchies. Moreover, an MBA degree can also help you negotiate a higher starting salary. An MBA program will also help you build leadership skills, learn ro develop product vision and lifecycle. However, it will give you minimum hands-on experience and execution skills. You’ll have to demonstrate proof of experience through side projects, internships, part-time jobs, or additional courses.
Path #2: Specialized PM training
This is the fastest option. Many online education websites offer online product management courses and certifications that are recognized by companies big and small. This is a great option if you are sure you want to become a PM, as everything on the course is directly applicable to any PM job. You also get hands-on experience using PM tools, and you have to design a product portfolio at the end of the course that can be used during interviews. The duration of such programs span from 6 months to 1 year.
Path #3: On-the job experience + work your way up
A rather slower path to becoming a PM, but a popular option amongst fledgling PMs. Instead of taking courses, you can look for a junior product management role, build up your experience, and work your way up to a product manager role. If you are patient, have people skills and a self-starter mentality, this path can prove to be a very good option to gain highly-specialized training in the field.
Being a PM at a Large Firm vs a StartUp
In a large enterprise, product-led roles are more defined and structured. Whereas in a StartUp, a PM wears many hats.
Product Management at a StartUp
A PM’s role in a StartUp is more of a Generalist role due to the lack of resources. However, PMs have the opportunity to dip their toes in several areas which allows them to be more creative and build versatile skills on the way. You’ll have a direct role in marketing, design, and even in copy writing. However, the freedom to take on many responsibilities comes with it’s own set of challenges. You’ll have a smaller team to work with and a lower budget. That being said, a PM role in StartUp can be an awesome opportunity to begin your career in the field. You’ll get a taste of every stage of product development, flexibility to innovate and creative ideas to experience with new product designs without flushing out the budget.
Product Management at a large enterprise
A PM at a big firm has more resources at their disposal – from teams to bigger budgets. However, with a bigger team comes the need to trust your teammates to handle areas of work like design and user research. The PM may have less direct control over the specific stages of product development. Instead, have fixed set of tasks and KPIs that don’t involve much of decision making and control over the entire product lifecycle. Working as PM at a large firm involves more structure and formality. You’ll have to properly define the product requirements and handle a formal process of establishing the product roadmap, get approvals from top level management and stakeholders to move things forward.
Best Books for Product Managers
The modern product manager has to keep themselves updated with the latest trends from the field. What’s better than a good book to dive deep into a subject, absorb new ideas and find solutions to problems? There are countless product-related books out there and knowing where to start can be a real headscratcher. Here are top 10 product-centric books that every PM MUST read:
- Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love (Marty Cagan)
- Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have all the Facts (Annie Duke)
- Cracking the PM interview (Gayle McDowell)
- The Product Book (Josh Anon)
- Tribe of Mentors (Timothy Ferris)
- My Product Management Toolkit (Marc Abraham)
- The Lean Product Playbook (Dan Olsen)
- Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days (Jake Knapp)
- Hooked: How to build Habit-Forming Products (Nir Eyal)
- Well Designed (Jon Kolko)